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Opinion

How can the law hold the government to account?

How can the law hold the government to account?

Friday 25 March 2022

How can the law hold the government to account?

Friday 25 March 2022


Jon Snow recently retired from Channel 4 News. He’d had a distinguished journalistic career experiencing breaking news and investigating stories. On his last evening, I watched as he explained how he had noticed a gradual decline in accountability of government.

He said the principle of accountability had seemed to have disappeared, and government could do pretty much as it pleased without sanction.

Perhaps many readers agree following the recent No.10 parties and the allegations of breaches of covid rules of isolation: government doing as it pleases, challenged but still operating.

Is it the same in Jersey?

For my part, I say yes. I’ve become extremely disappointed in the States Assembly. In fact, I am so disappointed, I find myself thinking, “I simply can’t be bothered.”  It’s easy for me to say that.  I’m getting older, I have less need to champion anything, I have less time remaining on earth, what time I do have I will probably spend elsewhere exploring, and if I do retire early, my tax contribution will plummet. 

If necessary, I can hobble a short journey around the corner from where I live and get a hip replacement at an oversized, and misplaced, hospital free-of-charge.  The new generation can pay for the op, as well as the burden of the hefty price of the hospital and ancillary development. 

Let me explain why government in Jersey is so unaccountable.  I don’t monitor States’ sittings, but I do keep track of one political hot potato: the new hospital.  In particular, I monitor and log what ministers and politicians say and do, and then compare and contrast their later contradictory statements.  Some readers will know my views on the hospital project and its chosen location.  Some will know how appalled I am at what I see as the public, and certain politicians, being misled by others.  It’s not a figment of my imagination. 

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Pictured: Senator Lyndon Farnham, said "Not a single tree would be lost in the developments." 

Senator Farnham announced on local television that the hospital project team was not withholding any information, and as soon as they got it they would share it publicly.  Not true.  There was a vacuum of information about the size, scale and detail of the hospital and then suddenly - as if by magic - a planning application was lodged brimming over with previously undisclosed information. 

So how is that possible?  Did those lodging the application receive the information the day before and quickly turn it round to lodge the following day?  Don’t be so ridiculous.  Have you seen the size of the application?  No.  Actually, the information existed for ages but was not shared despite Senator Farnham promising to do so as soon as it was obtained.  Broken promise. 

He also said not a single tree would be lost by the development.  Anyone with half a brain could see that was just not true. It was a blatant untruth.  Who cares in the Assembly?  Nobody apparently.  Did anyone take steps to see if the Assembly had been misled?  Next, realizing the tree statement was being challenged, he backtracked and told the media he had been quoted out of context.  He went on to tell the Assembly there would be trees affected; but affected did not mean ‘destroyed’ and certainly did not mean lost.  No.  There would simply be maintenance, landscaping and trimming carried out.  Well, that is categorically not what is happening. 

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Pictured: "Don’t tell me not one member of the government of the States’ Assembly didn’t notice that contradiction."

Practically all the trees along Westmount road will be felled and totally destroyed.  Don’t be fooled by architects’ sketches showing trees; they’re coming down; swathes of them.  A child of eight could look at the plans and see how many trees will be cut down.  It’s glaringly obvious.Don’t tell me not one member of the government of the States’ Assembly didn’t notice that contradiction. But, did anyone say, “hold on a minute – you’re misleading us and the public”?  No.  He then compounded the flim-flam when he told his colleagues the new road would go behind the existing trees; another completely false statement.  But, he went further still, because in his address to the Assembly, Senator Farnham said, 

“…if by any chance the design came back that had anything more than a very minimal impact on the environment…would be sent back….I certainly wouldn’t approve it…I can’t see anything that would have a severe impact being approved Sir, I certainly wouldn’t approve it…

It cannot sensibly be suggested that his statement to his States’ colleagues that there would only be maintenance and trimming of existing trees and nothing more than very minimal impact on the environment can sit in any way, shape or form with what has been lodged in the planning application, and what he and his project team have most definitely approved.  

He then went on to tell the States how all of this was good news because all the healthcare would be in one place… again, not true.  That’s not what is going to happen at all.  All of this is an appalling example of misleading and not being held accountable for doing so.  Well, at least, not yet. 

What has all of this to do with law?  There is an ‘accountability cattle prod’ which comes in two models.  The first, non-legal, model is simply your power of voting at the next election, when you most certainly can hold ministers and politicians accountable, if you think it appropriate to do so.  The legal model is the principle of judicial review. 

Judicial review is a court’s review of an administrative decision or act, to ensure fairness.  My prediction is the government should be battening down the hatches soon, and running for cover, because applications for judicial review will be coming thick and fast in respect of the hospital planning application. 

This article first appeared in Connect Magazine, which you can read in full HERE.

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